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H&M Foundation Selects Five Sustainable Startups for Accelerator Program

Lab-grown cotton and polyester made from air are among the 2020 winners of H&M Foundation’s Global Change Awards.

The program, which is in its fifth year, provides grants and educational resources for entrepreneurs establishing the future of sustainable and innovated fashion. This year, the foundation received 5,893 entries from 175 countries. The five winners were selected by a panel of experts.

Galy—which was also recently selected for Fashion For Good’s Accelerator Program—was the grand prize winner of the foundation’s Global Change Awards, earning €300,000 ($328,000) for its Incredible Cotton innovation.

The U.S. and Brazil-based startup engineers cotton in a lab, which in turn lessens the burden placed on farmers. This lab-manufactured cotton takes 18 days to produce and releases 80 percent less water and gas emissions.

H&M Foundation's Global Change Awards Picks Five Sustainable Startups
Galy Lab Courtesy

French fashion startup Fairbrics earned €150,000 ($164,000) for its Airwear product that converts greenhouse gas into sustainable polyester. Using literal air, it’s able to produce carbon negative synthetic fibers. Like Galy, the startup was also selected to participate in Fashion For Good’s Accelerator Program this year.

But multi-tasking is nothing new to entrepreneurs. H&M Foundation’s communication manager Malin Bjorne told Rivet that winners throughout the program’s history have juggled a number of accelerator programs at once.

“We see this as a positive, as different programs bring different elements to the innovators,” she said. “Both the Global Change Awards and Fashion For Good programs are primarily virtual, so there’s no problem for the teams to manage. In the current landscape, the digital aspect will play an even more significant role going forward.”

Other Global Change Awards winners include Feature Fibres by Werewool, a U.S.-based startup that creates fabrics from protein DNA with natural colors, stretch and other performance properties. The team was awarded €250,000 ($273,000) for its compostable materials that have a circular life cycle.

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H&M Foundation’s Global Change Awards gives grants to five sustainable fashion startups and invites them to join its accelerator program.

India-based Tracing Threads by TextileGenesis took home €150,000 ($164,000) for its tracking technology that uses blockchain to make the sustainable fiber supply chain more transparent. And American startup Zero Sludge by SeaChange Technologies earned €150,000 ($164,000) for its innovations in cleaning wastewater. The product helps eliminate toxic sludge in landfills.

Winners will also be enrolled in a one-year Innovation Accelerator Program run in cooperation with Accenture and KTH Royal Institute of Technology. The program connects winners with resources for scaling their business and connecting with leaders in the fashion industry.

“H&M Foundation continues to support entrepreneurs and innovators for long-term sustainability,” said H&M Foundation board member Karl-Johan Persson. “Every year I am amazed by the ideas submitted to the Global Change Award. The innovations are in themselves challenging the way we think about fashion. We are moving away from the old, linear ways of thinking, and move faster towards a planet positive and sustainable model. The winning innovations will help our industry reinvent itself and hopefully also inspire even more great minds out there.”